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Photo: Dave Webb

Cambridge Festival of Ideas - Prehistoric-stylee

Unsurprisingly perhaps, mud (or 'cob') architecture as it's usually known as in England, appears very little in the archaeological record hereabouts. Ashes to ashes, mud to mud etc. Especially wet, cold, British mud. I have read of advances in Africa and the USA in identifying excavations of mud wall architecture, but there is something profound to me about the absence of these most primitive shelters from the tangible past celebrated in this country - I guess it leaves more work for the imagination to do.

Fortunately visitors to our cob building zone at Cambridge Archaeology Unit's Prehistory Day were in general under 8 years of age and hence spared us clueless artists a grilling on the evidence of earth-building in prehistoric building techniques. Their parents were just glad to have them occupied I think and therefore neither did they ask any tricky history questions - though if they had, there were plenty of real-life archaeologists around to point them to - all doing exciting things like butchering a deer, archery and -er-face painting. I even heard two chatting each other up,
'What's your specialism?"
"Oh, the Mesolithic transition in South East England"
"Cool. That's mine too"
One very keen small boy had done a thorough excavation of his back garden, that had - he proudly said - yielded 'Half of a wig curler'. I think his Dad was an archaeologist, or maybe this is normal stuff for kids in Cambridge to be into? If it is, we are definately not in Kansas anymore.

Anyhow, the local kids seemed happier just to get stuck in and muddy, assisting us in building a small cob 'tower block' that we were trialling for a sculpture proposal for the NW Cambridge site. I brought to the workshop some wooden beehive 'supers' (boxes in which the combs hang) to try as time-saving moulds, as Nina shows in the picture, these seemed to work well packed with mud, and the resulting one-metre high cob tower stacked up rather well, though I'm not sure it would win any RIBA awards.

You can see more pictures of the workshop on Flickr here

Thanks to Sara Harrop, CAU and to Maeve Polkinhorn of CAS for their help on the day